Saying Goodbye to Newfoundland

Sep 26, 2017

Sixteen years ago this fall, a month after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers, my wife Kathy and I bought an old house in Squid Tickle, Newfoundland – a tiny village on the northeast coast of that rocky island. Since then we’ve spent most summers there, far from the raucous noise, pressing crowds, and increasingly scary traffic of Cape Cod’s high season.

The house is a two-story, steep-pitched, white-clapboarded structure built with hand tools a hundred years ago. In addition there are several sheds, a dug well, a large root cellar and a functioning two-seater outhouse. There is no running water, but a red, cast-iron pump in the kitchen provides water for cooking, washing and cleaning. For showers we use solar hot-water bags hung on the back side of the house. At night, in our upstairs bedroom, we listen to the wind rushing through the stand of cottonwoods in our front yard, a sound like rushing surf.  It’s been a fine place for a summer dwelling.          

Over the years we became a part of the summer community there, or as much as we could be as Come From Aways – the Newfoundlander’s equivalent for washashores. We had our wedding reception in the old schoolhouse there. I bought a fourteen-foot skiff, built by a local craftsman, and learned to jig for and clean codfish. We cooked on an old Glenwood stove; washed our clothes in a 1950s Thor wringer washer; picked wild strawberries, blueberries and partridgeberries to make jam and pies. Occasionally I played the organ for Sunday services in the local Anglican Church. We explored ancient archaeological sites, attended annual garden parties and week-long accordion festivals, and did a hundred other local things that defined summers in Squid Tickle.

But what we mostly did, what defined our time there more than anything else, was to visit and listen to the Old People tell stories about life in Squid Tickle B.C., or “Before Confederation” with Canada in 1949. They were stories of a hard life, a culture of survival, but one full of earthy humor, quiet pride, a colorful dialect, a deep love of place, and a remarkable ability to fashion the necessities of life from whatever materials lay to hand.

This summer we put our Squid Tickle house up for sale.  The reasons are many and complex:  The annual drive – some 1400 miles plus a seven-hour ferry – has been getting longer every year.  The old house is in dire need of renovation and repair, an investment of time and money that we are not willing or able to make. But the main reason, I think, is that the Old People, who provided such a remarkable glimpse into a world so different from ours, have all but disappeared. 

It’s not been easy to let go of this house where we have lived so much life over the past sixteen years. In fact it’s been harder than I anticipated. Any place you live a life you love develops ties that bleed when you cut them.  But it was the right thing to do. It had been the right time to buy the house, to possess it, and we are the richer for it; but now it’s the right time to let it go. Perhaps someone else will love it as we have, and make a new life there. After all, the house still has, as one local resident put it, “good bones.”